By Paul Greenberg, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
May 1998 – Credit for the most mindless remark of the month, and maybe the year, goes to The Hon. Christopher Dodd, senator and Democratic apparatchik from Connecticut. He’s come up with the second most demeaning crack in recent times about mothers who choose to stay home and raise their families rather than enter the workplace.
Moms who don’t use day care, said the senator, are indulging in the “wonderful luxury” of staying home, instead of having to enter the workplace. To hear the senator tell it, these women can say, “I would like to stay home, I have another spouse who is earning enough” and can choose “to play golf or go to the club and play cards….”
Take that, home-schoolers.
Take that, moms who would rather raise their preschoolers themselves, even at a financial sacrifice, than drop them off on the way to work.
Take that, young professional women who have had it with the rat race by the time the baby comes along, and who decide that there is nothing – nothing – more important than shaping the formative years of their children. And who would rather not delegate that duty, chore, and joy to strangers during working hours.
No, the choice these moms have made is not for everybody, but it’s right for them and for their children. And it’s also their right. They shouldn’t be shamed out of it by a heedless culture that looks down on full-time mothers – much the way advanced types in the 1930s looked askance at breastfeeding when bottled milk was so much more “scientific” and up to date.
American homemakers have been dissed enough by intellectual fashion without being treated to Chris Dodd’s misconceptions about what they do all day. Here’s hoping the senator hears from the mothers of Connecticut who are working at home. It might not be worth the effort, for his remarks indicate an invincible ignorance about how the human family works. And about the importance of child care by those closest to the child.
No, staying home with the children isn’t for everybody. Poor moms or even those just above the poverty line may not be able to afford it, which is why the federal government needs to do whatever it can to ease the unconscionable tax burden on working families. And if it can’t do that, senators like Chris Dodd could at least refrain from insulting those mothers who work at home. Because their work is the most important kind.
Oh, yes, credit for the most demeaning comment about housewives – for Chris Dodd’s blooper rates only runner-up honors – went to First Woman years ago. It was Hillary Clinton who, questioned about some of her deals as a lawyer, sneered that, well, she could have just stayed home and baked cookies. But not even our First Enabler confused homemaking with golf and bridge.
Ms. Clinton has every right to a career of her choice. A lot of men, too, would much rather face the business world than a two-year-old all day. But between the stay-home moms and those who sneer at them, I’ll take the moms any day or night. They’re shaping the world where and when they can be most influential: at home in the most formative years of another human being. Martin Luther King used to say you can’t really teach anybody anything unless you love them, and these moms are doing both full time – loving and teaching.
Increasingly, our sick culture has dismissed the importance of family and home in favor of a seductive upward mobility. Children are to be shunted aside in favor of that old goddess Success, and if you seek the results, just look around. Any parent who ever left a little one at day care for the first time and saw the look in the kid’s eyes knows what I’m talking about.
But it is now mindlessly assumed that no success in the home is worth losing out on the rewards offered by the glittering world outside, when in reality no success in business or politics or professional career can make up for failure in the home. Ask anybody who’s had a child go astray or lost children through divorce or who can’t find peace or even time at home. No amount of fragile success can make up for such a loss. Or its repercussions.
Yet the old, old lessons have been far forgotten that homemaking can be equated with cookie making, and a thoughtless U.S. senator can’t see any reason why women would choose to stay out of the job market except to golf or play cards.
It’s not just children who learn from parents, but parents from children. They renew us callow adults, keep wonder and curiosity alive and remind us of what is truly important, and what success really is.
Maybe we all need to wake up. No matter what the politicians and businessmen and lawyers and oh-so-important movers and shakers in this world decide, none of that may matter if the next generation is lost. But if families are strong, communities and whole countries will be. It’s a lesson as old as Confucius.
Nothing that power or fashion can inflict on a nation may prove irremediable if a new generation is raised with more attention to higher standards and a fuller understanding of what duty commands, and what love and grace make natural. Maybe that’s why the world begins anew with the birth of every child.
Write Paul Greenberg at The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Capitol Ave. & Scott, Little Rock, AR 72201.